RenovoCath treats pancreatic cancer

Over the past few years, there has been increased awareness of pancreatic cancer with the deaths of actor Patrick Swayze and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Right now, "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek is fighting a public battle with the disease.

With that increased awareness, researchers are now testing a revolutionary new way to deliver chemotherapy that is giving patients hope by extending lives.

Seventy-year old Darlene Bossola had been intentionally losing weight last year to fight diabetes, but then the mother of three and grandmother of seven became jaundiced. Doctors diagnosed Bossola with inoperable Stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

"So, of course, you want to do something that's going to help you, along with your family, then eventually help other," Bossola said.

She chose to be part of a clinical trial testing a new way of delivering chemotherapy directly to pancreatic tumors.

Every other week for eight weeks, Bossola was wheeled into an operating room at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Doctors treat the tumor using a double balloon catheter called RenovoCath. Radiologists thread it through the groin into the vessels near the pancreas. They inflate the balloons, then deliver chemo.

"We're actually forcing the chemotherapy into the tumor, as opposed to spraying it on the outside, like we would with the liver," radiologist Dr. Paula Novelli said.

So far, the trial has shown to extend the lives of some pancreatic patients significantly.

"This is huge. We have a patient who is three years out, our longest survival at this point," Novelli said.

"All my levels are down. I feel great. It needs to be offered to everyone," Bossola said.

For Bossola, married 48 years to her high school sweetheart, Terry, it is precious extra time with the people who mean the most.

The trial for the RenovoCath is called TIGeR-PaC. Researchers are enrolling 300 patients at 30 sites in the U.S. through the end of 2021.

So far, the trial has shown to extend the lives of pancreatic patients from 14 months to 26 months.

REPORT: MB #4599

BACKGROUND: The pancreas produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar. It is located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. Pancreatic cancer usually begins in the exocrine cells and then cancerous cells start to form in the tissues of the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers. According to the American Cancer Society only about 23 percent of patients diagnosed with cancer in of the exocrine pancreas survive a year after being diagnosed; that percentage decreases after five years of being diagnosed to 8.2 percent. (Source:

SYMPTOMS AND RISK FACTORS: One the main symptoms resulting from pancreatic cancer is unexplained weight loss, but other symptoms also include yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes, pain in abdomen and back, loss of appetite, fatigue, and depression. There are also risk factors and lifestyle changes that people can change to help lower their risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, as well as risk factors that cannot be changed. Risk factors that can be changed include tobacco use, being overweight, and exposure to certain chemicals. Risk factors like age, gender, race, family history, and inherited genetic syndromes. It is not clear as of now if things such as coffee and alcohol are also risk factors. (Source: &

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Paula Novelli, MD, FSIR, Associate Professor of Radiology, Division of Interventional Radiology at UPMC said, "This allows us to continue to really douse the tumor if that's a good word or sort of drench it with this chemotherapy directly to the site, which is what we do in the liver. We do that for the primary metastatic diseases. But we've never been able to deliver it to the pancreas." Dr. Novelli says they needed a different type of catheter compared to the standard ones, "This type of catheter is able to isolate segments of the blood vessel and force chemotherapy through the vessel wall into the tumor. So, you can treat a tumor that predominantly is vascular or a blood supply that we can't detect on an angiogram that then we actually sort of bathe anything in proximity to that catheter." This new way of treating the tumor has show significant reduction in the bulk of the tumor and the damage the tumor does to other structures. (Source: Paula Novelli, MD, FSIR)